Castlegar Radon Bylaw Progressing with Glacial Speed

Provincial level authorities don't share local feeling of urgency over radon gas

Dana Schmidt takes part in an early 2013 Rotary Club effort to reduce the impact of radon gas in the household of a single Castlegar mom.

Further to an item touched upon in the council briefs of last week’s Castlegar News, an issue relating to a dangerous natural hazard appears to be languishing in a bureaucratic holding pattern.

The issue is radon gas mitigation being built in to the provincial building code, so it may be applied locally.

At the core of the issue are a couple of key points – the fact that Castlegar:

• has radon levels that are among the highest in the province, and,

• is home to a knowledgeable and outspoken advocate for boosted safeguards to deal with the carcinogenic gas.

Dana Schmidt is the man who has acquired a wealth of data on the topic and pushed hard for regulations to help reduce the risk of the invisible, tasteless, odourless gas. He is the driving force behind the Donna Schmidt Memorial Lung Cancer Society, an entity formed to honour his spouse who passed away in 2009.

The society has partnered with the City of Castlegar to provide hundreds of free long-term radon testing units.

Well known steps may be taken to reduce radon risk during the construction of homes and larger buildings, and retrofitting of existing structures may also be done, although more expensive and time consuming.

Those looking for a provincial building bylaw have found support in Castlegar, if not at higher levels.

The latest installment in the ongoing issue was at the council meeting meeting of Dec. 2 when council received for information the most recent communication on the matter from Rich Coleman, Minister Responsible for Housing and Deputy Premier.

The letter was in response to a message from Phil Markin, Castlegar’s director of Development Services this past July.

Markin’s letter had re-asserted points aiming to add a sense of urgency to the matter of building bylaw adjustment.

Uniformity, as it happens, is what Minister Coleman cites as a reason not to draft a bylaw that would apply to regions of the province where radon is not such a big concern.

Here is a portion of Coleman’s response to Mr. Markin’s letter:

“The Province continues to pursue the objective of a uniform British Columbia Building Code, which provides the building industry with the most effective and efficient regulatory system while protecting the public interest in health and safety. For this reason I do not approve your request, as additional construction requirements made by local bylaw are contrary to this objective.”

The Minister, however, did go on to invite the City of Castlegar to participate in a joint government/BC Lung Association mitigation pilot project.

“The pilot project will provide data that will allow us to determine if modifications are required to the minimum construction standards for radon and what they should be,” stated the Minister.

“I was very disappointed in the minister’s response,” Dana Schmidt told the Castlegar News on December 9 in an email, “as he is well aware that the current provincial standards for radon building codes are not uniform across the province, with major portions of the province exempt from the current building codes related to radon mitigation because of low geological potential for radon generation.”

Further, Schmidt declared, “…it seems ironic that when a community with extremely high radon potential asks for building codes standards that are affordable and provide for actual improvements in radon levels in homes, he (Minister Coleman) cites the need for uniformity as his reason for denial.

“However, I do agree that the best outcome would be for all of the province with high radon potential to enact provisions similar to the Castlegar proposed bylaw. The data provided by the Donna Schmidt Lung Cancer Prevention Society clearly demonstrates the high level of radon present in new homes in Castlegar.”

Finishing on a proactive note, Schmidt’s email related, “In the meantime, I would encourage all Castlegar residents and those in the construction industry to provide radon resistant construction techniques.

“The Donna Schmidt Lung Cancer Prevention Society continues to provide long term radon detectors so our citizens can determine if the air in their homes has acceptable levels of radon and these are distributed at Golder Associates office on Columbia Avenue.”